For three months in 2015 and 2016, 109,000 metric tons of methane spewed into the atmosphere over the Aliso Canyon north of Los Angeles. Thousands were evacuated from the Porter Ranch suburb. California declared a state of emergency.
The state charged the Southern California Gas Company, or SoCalGas, with violating state health and safety laws by failing to promptly report the leak, and creating a public nuisance, and several other entities — the city attorney’s office, the county, and the California Air Resources Board — filed lawsuits against the company. SoCalGas settled those claims yesterday, agreeing to pay $119.5 million in damages.
“There is no excuse for what happened,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “For over four months, this leak exposed our communities to natural gas emissions that resulted in adverse health impacts and disrupted the lives of tens of thousands of Californians — displacing two area schools and driving residents from their homes.” Along with repaying city, county, and state services for their immediate response to the leak, SoCalGas will be required to:
Monitor methane at the Aliso Canyon facility and post data online in near real-time for eight years;
Create a new internal safety committee which shall remain in place for eight years;
Pay for a long-term health study to assess direct health impacts of the leak, a local air monitoring network in Porter Ranch, and a “Mitigation Fund,” which will be invested in dairy biogas-collection infrastructure in order to fully mitigate the methane emitted by the leak; and
Fund additional environmental programs in and around Los Angeles.
The settlement also bars SoCalGas from Refrain from shifting the cost of this settlement and actions taken to respond to the leak to SoCalGas’ ratepayers.
Not everyone is pleased with the settlement. Matt Pakucko, who co-founded the group Save Porter Ranch, told KTLA “[California Attorney Xavier Becerra] should be investigating, not settling.” Jason Tokoro, counsel for L.A. County, however, said the settlement was probably the best deal city, county, and state officials could hope for. “We litigated this case all the way to the California Supreme Court,” he said, “and there were certain things we were asking that the court told us we just couldn’t get. Everything else that we sought, we got as part of this settlement.”